Another Self-Contradictory Attack on Clean Energy from the Washington Post

by Richard Caperton

Readers of the Washington Post in the last few days were treated to one of the more egregious examples of why the paper appears so schizophrenic on climate and energy.

On the one hand, readers learn that “Climate Change Means More Frequent Droughts, Floods to Come,” which accurately notes that, “this year has already set a record in terms of billion-dollar disasters for the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center, with at least 10 disasters so far approaching a total of $50 billion.”

On the other hand, though, readers were treated to a broadside against clean energy from the editorial board. Before going further, let me remind you that clean energy deployment is the only way we will avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. There are no other solutions. So, the Post’s editorial board would condemn the world to a miserable future of “hell and high water.”

In fact, the paper published an editorial, “A bad month for climate-change skeptics,” the very next day (!) that states:

The U.S. debate on global warming remains fancifully divorced from the scientific discussion. President Obama hardly ever mentions climate change. Republicans’ behavior is much more embarrassing: GOP presidential candidates often dismiss the warnings of experts in favor of conspiracy-drenched denial. The debate should no longer be about whether the world is warming or whether there is reason to act. It must be about how to respond.

And so how embarrassing is it that the Post trashes clean energy funding in an editorial Friday — while never once mentioning climate change, which  of course is a key reason for funding solar energy — and then Saturday says we must be talking about how to respond to climate change!

Here’s some point-by-point debunking of the attack on clean energy.

First, the Post perpetuates the myth that clean energy is a niche product that can’t survive without massive government support. Of course, we support efficient, consistent government programs to create a level playing field for these vital emerging industries. But as Climate Progress and others have shown time after time, portraying this sector as some sort of boondoggle is absolutely false.

In many countries, the installed cost of large-scale solar is approaching $2.50 a watt. At $2 a watt, we could cost-effectively meet 30% of the world’s electricity needs. Here’s wind power selling for an astonishing 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. And Here’s a European country getting 45 percent of its power from renewables. Quite the contrary to the Post’s assertion, clean energy is a mainstream investment for utilities and consumers around the world.

The main criticisms of the Post appears are that “the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program privatizes profits and socializes losses.” Think about that, and then go back and read the other Post story about climate change. The real problem is that we’re privatizing profits and socializing environmental and health losses from the fossil fuel industry. After all, what else could climate change be other than “socialized losses?”

The Post’s editors may argue, though, that they don’t dislike clean energy investment, they just dislike the DOE Loan Guarantee Program. That’s fine. But, it’s important to remember that the part of this program that financed Solyndra – “Section 1705” – is done.  It was a two-year program that has now drawn to a close.  So, even if the Post’s criticisms about the program are valid, it’s not clear what constructive purpose it serves to call the entire program a “scandal” today, when the program no longer exists.  We should learn every lesson possible from this program, and we’ll have plenty of time to digest these lessons after a major audit is completed on December 28th.

Finally, the Post concludes that, “as for the $10 billion loan-guarantee loss reserve, that’s $10 billion the country could devote to other uses, including more effective means of limiting carbon emissions or achieving energy security.” Obviously, we all want to spend government money cost-effectively. There’s a limited amount of money that we can use to fight climate change, and the urgency of the situation requires that we spend that money efficiently. The Post seems to imply, however, that this money was wasted. That’s a bold conclusion to draw, given the scope of projects that moved forward because of the Loan Guarantee Program.

Long before the DOE Loan Guarantee Program existed and long before the Solyndra bankruptcy, the government provided incentives for firms to invest in clean energy. These incentives have been a tremendous success and have helped to levelize the playing field between the energy of the future and the energy of the past. The government needs to keep making targeted interventions in energy markets to bridge from the past to the future, and it needs to be able to use every tool available.

— Richard Caperton is a senior policy analyst with the energy team at the Center for American Progress.  Joe Romm contributed to this piece.

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11 Responses to Another Self-Contradictory Attack on Clean Energy from the Washington Post

  1. prokaryotes says:

    It appears that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    Thank you in particular for properly characterizing the Post article as an “attack on clean energy”.

    Because that’s exactly what it is — not the result of ignorance or error or incompetence, but a calculated, deliberately dishonest attack on the clean energy industries.

    Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the editorial pages of some of the nation’s most important newspapers — the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post and others — are serving up the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda, aimed at perpetuating its profits and obstructing and delaying the transition to renewable energy technologies as long as possible.

  3. Leif says:

    It cannot be stressed enough that the ecocidal fossil industry enjoys far more subsidies than the renewable industry in direct taxpayer contributions that do absolutely nothing but allow extremely profitable mature exploitative industries to buy back stock and enrich the already rich. Coupled with the health and environmental consequences suffered by the commons the atrocity is nothing short of criminal. If an honest light were shown on the discrepancy by the main/lame stream media, people would shudder.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    One hand clapping.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The MSM is market capitalism in brainwashing mode. The MSM is a propaganda system whose first priority is to defend the capitalist system by attacking all alternatives. Not only are the capitalist owners of society all heavily involved in the fossil fuel business because it is the biggest bag of loot in history, but they also oppose renewables for ideological reasons. Renewables are ‘Green’, hence ‘Left’ therefore anathema. Moreover Green concerns are directly contradictory to the central operating principle of market capitalism-endless economic growth. The Green/Left perspective, that life, justice and human fraternity must come before greed, egotism and the drive to dominate, is viscerally feared and despised by the Right. Articles such as these will almost certainly not cease being produced, so I would recommend simply ignoring them. Appeals to rationality, honesty and common decency are beside the point.

  6. Tony says:

    Not true that clean energy deployment is the only way to avert catastrophic climate change. Economic collapse would do just as well.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    The Post seems to go through more contortions than any of them, and it’s weird to watch. They want the money, and their little bopeep careers, but the truth gnaws at them. All of this dissonance is making them a little discombobulated.

  8. Ziyu says:

    NPR just ran a hit job on electric cars today. NPR! I was pretty shocked. Please write a thorough article debunking their claims and half truths.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    NPR sold out a while ago. They get money from the Kochs, among others.

  10. Jessen says:

    The trouble remains that the majority of people rely on mainstream media sources for opinion-forming information. And it seems that the garbage (or at least the half-assed) outweighs the sensible. Why is that? Is it because these media outlets are censoring other perspectives? Or because there aren’t enough knowledgeable people submitting them? Both? Maybe for the most part, those pundits supporting real energy reform are still preaching to the choir?

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    NPR apparatchiki, like those at John Howard’s ABC here, need to think of future employment prospects in an entirely Rightwing MSM. Moreover public broadcasters have been under the cosh from the Right for ‘though crime’ for decades, and the non-conformists were long ago winkled out.